by Traci Hall
During my research for In the Dog House, my contemporary romance for Entangled’s Bliss line, I fell in love myself—with funny dog videos. Cat videos. Animal videos. They are addicting, and they always made me smile or laugh. Talk about instant mood lifter. We all have so many reasons to be stressed—relationships, work, family, the pressures of trying to be everything, the best we can be—these feel-good videos jolt endorphins through the body. Have you seen the one where the cat discovers how to massage its own face? Hysterical!
Laughter lowers stress and is literally good for you. You know what else makes us feel good? Love. A spouse or significant other can occasionally get on our last nerve (and vice versa lol) but a pet offers unconditional love. That love brings warmth and acceptance. My dog, thank goodness, doesn’t care that I haven’t brushed my teeth or changed out of my pajamas, she loves me with everything in her and accepts me, coffee breath and all.
So—back to the book. (This is a hazard of research—just going along and then discovering something on…miniature horses? Whoa—come back, Traci)
What is the difference between a pet that we love and who loves us, and a service animal? And is there really such a thing as an emotional support animal?
A service animal has been specifically trained to perform tasks that the person in need of assistance can’t do for themselves. A guide dog for the blind is the most recognizable of these, but service dogs have been trained to alert to seizures, allergies, and diabetes, among a host of other things.
They must be certified in order to go to places where a “pet” would not be able to go, such as the grocery store or public transportation.
An emotional support dog (or cat, or other animal) offers a person suffering from anxiety, depression, or panic attacks unconditional love. They are not required to have special training or perform tasks. In Emma’s case, she wanted to make sure that her dogs all passed the AKC certification, even for emotional support dogs. She believes that a good dog is a well-trained dog—just like me (imagine that, lol).
In addition to my funny animal video bingeing, I also watched a lot of dog training videos in order to be as accurate as possible in the things that Emma would need to do for her dogs to be a legitimate service animal. The dog has to follow commands, and allow strangers to touch them—even lift up their paws to check their nails without becoming alarmed. And what do you do for treats to reward them while training? I loved the idea of small training pellets infused with bacon. One of the gems I tried myself was on a hot day, freezing watermelon cubes as “treats” for the dogs.
In the story, Emma is a psychologist, and Jackson suffers from PTSD. He thinks nothing is wrong, and that he is handling things just fine. Emma knows that she can help if he will just trust her a little bit. PTSD is a phrase most of us are familiar with, and associate with soldiers coming back from duty. During my research I found that PTSD actually affects more people than that—victims of violent crimes, such as burglary or rape. Car accidents. Natural disasters. Any traumatizing event that creates fear or crippling anxiety. Now, I’m not saying that a dog is a guarantee to mental health, but combined with therapy (and there are so many incredible options) a service animal might be a spoke on the wheel to recovery. Sometimes they can provide an alternative to medication for anxiety. In a society where we are often tossed pills as a solution, I think that’s pretty great.
Mental health is very important but because we don’t “see” it, like a broken leg, it can be swept out of sight. Pets offer unconditional love, and emotional support therapy animals take that one step further. Are you in need of some TLC? Consider a rescue pet and check out the guidelines here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_support_animal
Thank you so much for reading—and I hope you check out Emma and Jackson, In the Dog House.